By Howard Tsmura - Vancouver Province - LINK to Story

KINGSTON, Ontario — Five years ago, when Ben Josephson was a rookie head coach, he brought three fresh-men into the men's volleyball program at Langley's Trinity Western University.

He had a pretty good feeling that Ben Ball, Rudy Verhoeff and Marc Howatson would some day become special players.

On Sunday, that trio finished their university careers in true story-book fashion, providing the leadership and the brotherhood that carried the Spartans (24-1) to a second straight CIS national champion-ship win, a 3-1 (19-25, 25-19, 25-17, 30-28) triumph over the Laval Rouge et Or at Queen's University in Kings-ton, Ont.

"That is what epic stories are made of," said Josephson. "You can't play great unless your opponent plays great and Laval pushed us to the outer edges of our ability. I thought our senior leaders showed what character does when its back is against the wall. And their character is just off the charts. They showed it in that fourth set."

Back-to-back kills by Steven Mar-shall put the Spartans ahead 29-28, before Howatson's service ace made it official. Verhoeff finished with a team-high 13 kills, while Marshall finished with 12.

"Words can't really describe any of this," said Ball, a member of The Province's Head of the Class in 2007 who was named tournament MVP as he battled through a stomach virus that had threatened to keep him in bed and off the court all weekend.

"We pushed each other hard every practice and every game. And coach stayed with us through the good and the bad. So to build it to all of this, with a win in the end, just means so much."

Last season, the Spartans were able to win the national title in front of their home fans at the Langley Events Centre. This season, the emotional wave came from within, and it started in the pregame.

"I looked at them all and thought there was nothing left to say," Josephson recounted. "They prepared all season for this. But then I looked at Rudy and Marc and Ben, they were my first group [of recruits] and I just got overwhelmed with pride. Those guys set the stage for me. They have started a culture here, and hopefully now we can build on what they have done the last five years."

Ball, who went on to finish with 39 set assists, could sense how emotional Josephson's pregame talk was getting.

"It was really good, but I wasn't going to look at him," admitted Ball. "I could hear him starting to get choked up, so I just put my head down. I tried to keep myself together, tried to stay focused on the game."

And although the Spartans dropped the opening set, their first and only of the entire weekend, their response to the early adversity brought Josephson right back to his pregame talk.

"Their performance summarized their whole careers," the coach said.

"They were tough and talented and gritty. But most importantly, they loved each other and they stayed together when the times got tough."

Last Updated: 2012-03-07
Author: Mark Janzen